Monday, November 12, 2012

Lawrence Gooley: Lessons from Chronicle Book Fair

The Chronicle Book Fair was held last Sunday at the Queensbury Hotel in downtown Glens Falls. Kudos to the Chronicle for once again hosting one of the region’s premier book events. It was educational, entertaining, and even lucrative for some.

Most important, it offered support to new authors who are seeking exposure and opinions on their work. This marked the event’s seventeenth year, but as indicated in an informational email from the folks at the Chronicle, it almost didn’t happen. Thankfully, this was because they are overwhelmed with work, and not because e-books have taken over the world.

Printed books, in fact, are faring quite well despite dire predictions across the Internet. After reading the latest statistics, a number of online writers have been quick to pronounce the death of printed books (what some are now referring to as “p-books”). Yes, e-book sales are said to have eclipsed hard-cover sales for the first time, but it’s also important that printed books still encompass about 65 percent of the book market. That’s critical information for local writers.

For Adirondack authors and their kind, there are other important facts that are being ignored. E-books have made huge inroads, but the bulk of their success has been in mass-market paperbacks. Digging further reveals that the numbers are often heavily skewed by sales connected to a very few authors or a few books. Most “authors” who have made their e-books available have sold fewer than five copies, while at the same time, 50 Shades of Grey at one point sold 2 million copies in four months. That alone accounts for a whole lot of skewing.

Regional authors, many of whom appeared at the Chronicle Fair, may hope for widespread sales, but it’s important to begin by focusing on regional customers. Appearing at the fair offers exposure to the public, and interaction with customers, publishers, and admirers―elements that are often key to success.

Despite monetary expenditures to advertise your new book, you’ll often find that word-of-mouth is the best driver of sales. That’s true, whether live or in social media. And if you’ve figured out how to sell appreciable quantities (hundreds, or into the thousands) of the e-book version of your work, you’re way ahead of the game.

I have yet to hear of any such case in the region―only vague claims of “increased sales,” or comparisons to printed copies, but no hard numbers revealing how many have sold. If you’ve sold 8 e-books and 2 printed books, that’s a 4-to-1 ratio―but it’s still only 10 books, and not a true measure of anything.

As an author, you’ll likely discover that in regional terms, your best prospects lie in sales of the printed work. For one thing, a relatively high number of your potential customers are not deeply invested in the electronic world. Not everyone has an e-reader, but almost everyone has eyes.

It’s misleading when columnists speak in generalities about e-books without addressing the details. Telling the public that printed books are dead or dying and that e-books will rule the world is also self-serving―those stories are mostly written by online writers. The Chronicle believes in the printed word, and they back it up with a printed newspaper and a book fair that largely features printed books.

Personally, I’ve delved into both worlds on several levels, writing regular online pieces while producing printed articles, and printed books as well. I enjoy doing both, and much of my time is spent working at a computer keyboard. I love technology―I owned one of the earliest home computers produced back in the late 1970s, and I’ve had at least one ever since. My life has been far better for it.

But when comparing selling in the digital world to selling in the print world, print wins hands down. In the impersonal computer world, unfiltered comments and the ability to hide behind digital identities emboldens those who would shrink from personal interaction. Much of the digital stuff is good, but unfiltered isn’t.

I often peruse the Press Republican online, and the story comments there are a fine example, where nose-pickin’ geniuses can vent on any subject. Rarely offering anything constructive, they gripe and complain about pretty much every article, arriving at some convoluted conclusion unrelated to the story, and often twisting just about anything into partisan political terms.

I might skim a few if I have time, and if it proves at all entertaining, it’s largely because the words of wisdom imparted there are routinely cringe worthy. Next time you consider partaking, ask yourself: Would I say this to the person’s face, or in a media interview? If not, you probably shouldn’t write it … but if you do, make it a signed letter to the editor. The anonymous crap that permeates the Internet is a pathetic substitute for public discourse.

I love the ones with irony, like a recent education-oriented Press Republican story that prompted a response from someone with the username “BuckyBeaver.” We were enlightened about education with a 112-word entry containing 7 grammatical errors―not what I would call informed commentary. Ironically, it made a good point, but not the one intended.

Thankfully, those who showed up at the Chronicle Book Fair were of an educational bent, commenting on books and discussing publishing, fundraising, and all sorts of topics. They interacted with real people instead of an empty chair, and dealt with replies and opposing viewpoints rather than spouting opinions that they wouldn’t dare voice to a live person. They met real people and made real friends and acquaintances, as opposed to the weak substitutes offered in social media.

We should remember that among all this wonderful, computer-related progress, some things are worth preserving. In the past, shopping and other activities were not just about the activities themselves. The social element involved in visiting the store or getting the mail was an important part of life.

I do love computers, and I have for more than 30 years, but they aren’t better for everything. Easier, yes, but not necessarily better.

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

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